Category: Development

“If You Can’t Control What’s Important, You Make Important What You Can Control”

More surprisingly, Posner spends significant firepower assailing
“The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.” This compendium (The Chicago Manual of Style for lawyers) might seem an unworthy target. Yet he is excoriating not just the Bluebook, but also the substitution of style over substance it represents. When created in 1926, supposedly by the great appellate judge Henry Friendly, the manual was 26 pages. A recent edition spans 511 pages. Posner appears to believe that following the Bluebook is about as bad as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic — and by reverse order of manufacture, no less. He casts the Bluebook as a neurotic reaction to external complexity; if you cannot control what is important, you make important what you can control.

From a New York Times review of Richard Posner’s new book, Reflections on Judging. I emphasized the last part because it was oddly reminiscent of a disturbing trend in my own discipline.

Summary and Slides of My Talk on Female Genital Cutting

Last week I gave talks — the same talk twice, really — in London and in Frankfurt on female genital cutting.

As it turns out, the nice folks at the London International Development Centre have a posted a nice summary of my talk (complete with a picture of me giving the talk) here, along with the slides for my presentation.

I have talked about this paper a few times already on this blog, but the paper keeps improving. The version of the paper in the slides available from the LIDC website covers both Senegal and the Gambia, and it discusses how and speculates about why the persistence of FGC differs between the two countries.

Why Farmers in Developing Countries Sometimes Love Risk

Using a unique data set collected among farmers in India’s semiarid tropics, we document the surprising prevalence of risk-taking behavior in the face of realistically framed high-stakes gambles. We hypothesize that this apparently anomalous behavior is due to a combination of credit constraints and nonconvexities in production. In particular, the high-stakes nature of the gambles creates the potential for a farmer to undertake a productive investment that would normally be unaffordable and thereby move to a permanently higher level of income. We show that the degree to which farmers are willing to accept risk in return for this opportunity appears to relate in an intuitive way to their current agricultural production technology as well as the demographic composition of their household.

A new paper by Annemie Maertens, A.V. Chari, and David Just.


I am spending the weekend in Ottawa, where I am presenting my paper with Tara Steinmetz on female genital cutting at the 2013 Research in Economic Development (RECODE) conference.

For me, this means that two mutually exclusive worlds will collide. I spent the 1998 and 1999 summers in Ottawa working for a Cabinet minister, and development economics is what I have been doing since I began my Masters in the fall of 1999 and found something I liked even more than Canadian politics.

Canadian Museum of Civilization (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

The conference program is here, and I am especially looking forward to Michael Clemens‘ keynote during the Friday night reception at the Museum of Civilization.

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Takes on Food Aid

Last Tuesday, my Cornell colleague, coauthor, and former advisor Chris Barrett was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart discussing food aid. The video segment in which he appeared managed to make a very serious point — the effectiveness of the Food for Peace program is greatly undermined by the shipping lobby — while remaining highly satirical, and you can watch it here:

According to an interview Chris gave to the Cornell Daily Sun, the taping of his part of the segment took about four hours.

For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Chris has worked on just about every aspect of food security, and I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint what he is most famous for. The above video, however, is about his work on food aid, the culmination of which has been his 2005 book with Dan Maxwell, Food Aid After Fifty Years.

For a more popular treatment of the weaknesses of US food aid because of the political economy landscape, I suggest reading Kilman and Thurow’s Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.